Patriots

Patriots' 43-40 win over Chiefs lives up to the billing

Patriots' 43-40 win over Chiefs lives up to the billing

FOXBORO – It was 11:28 p.m., just after Stephen Gostkowski’s 28-yarder at the buzzer ended a Sunday Night Football game you won’t forget.

As I walked from the media elevator to the field I thumbed out a tweet I suspected might get some pushback.

“That was a great, great game.”

That conclusion should have been self-evident. But launching a tweet like that into the vortex of snark and negativity that swirls on Twitter during Patriots games is asking for a mass debunking.

The “yeah, buts . . . ” and laments about which guy sucks, what play call was stupid and how this team won’t be winning Super Bowls playing like that usually come raining down.

But this time, the bitchers, moaners and punch-bowl turds were vastly outnumbered by people realizing just what they watched.

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Two teams putting up almost 1,000 yards of offense (500 for the Pats, 465 for the Chiefs)

The greatest quarterback of all time dueling the most exciting young quarterback in the NFL.

A franchise in the autumn of its years at the top, rolling up its sleeves at crunch time and using a whole lot of Dad strength to subdue the latest wannabe.

“Wannabe” isn’t meant to demean the Chiefs. Every team in the league that’s not based on Route 1 in Foxboro wants to be what the Patriots have been for two decades, not just another notch on the belt of Brady and Belichick.

It used to be the same here. We’d get giddy talk about the 1994 opener when Drew Bledsoe and Dan Marino dueled and the Patriots lost 38-34, the same way people in Kansas City are going to talk about this one.

But we’re a little jaded now. We’ve got a catalog of indelible games to thumb through now. So many that, when these games end we’re like jewelers inspecting diamonds searching for flaws in something that was really, really exquisite.

The journey to 43-40 was as entertaining and jammed with intrigue as any other regular-season game in recent memory.

It was 27-26 entering the last quarter, the Chiefs having erased a 24-9 halftime lead with a 67-yard touchdown pass from Patrick Mahomes to Kareem Hunt after Bill Belichick warned his team all week long about guarding against big plays. And there was a strip-sack of Brady in there too when the quarterback went on walkabout and got hammered to set up a touchdown pass to the uncoverable Tyreek Hill.

That was the prelude to a 30-point fourth in which the Chiefs got a 97-yard kickoff return setting up a go-ahead touchdown, Brady ran one in from four yards out on third-and-goal, Gostkowski drilled a 50-yarder after a 42-yard hookup between Brady and Rob Gronkowski, Mahomes hit Hill for a 75-yard touchdown that tied it and then Brady hit Gronk for 39 yards to set up the game-winner.

After a week debating the merits of Gronk compared to Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce, Gronk got the last word. And so did Brady after we spent more than a week marveling at the arm and composure of Mahomes.

In a lot of ways, this was the rare game that we all forecasted pretty accurately.

Not all the dirty details, but the fact that both teams would go up and down the field on each other.

That the Patriots might hatch a couple of things to confuse Mahomes (both of his picks were costly and caused by savvy defense) but that his arm strength and the speed of his receivers made him a threat no matter where he was on the field.

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That Kansas City might get alternately picked on and bullied on the ground and spread thin and picked apart through the air.

But we also learned that Mahomes has it in him to rebound on the road against a dynasty. Yeah, he’s just another notch on the Patriots belt this morning, another under-25 quarterback that lost to the Patriots at Gillette, but he’s the wind beneath the Chiefs wings now. And that’s why the losing locker room didn’t sound like a losing locker room.

The Patriots didn’t play badly and lose badly as they did the last two times the Chiefs saw them in the regular season. The Patriots, overall, played really well and still the Chiefs almost got them.

“I feel like if we had the ball last like they did we would have gone down and scored and won, too,” said Hunt. “We can take this loss. I mean, you never want to lose. We’re going to learn from this, go study and make sure it don’t happen again.”

The Chiefs can “take this loss” as Hunt said because they feel pretty good that this won’t be the only time they see the Patriots this year.

“When you score 40 points and you lose you’ve got to look yourself in the mirror,” said corner Orlando Scandrick. “This team has got great character. It’s one of the best group of guys I’ve been around in my whole 11-year career. We’ll be fine, I am not worried about it at all. The way this team works, the way this team prepares. If we handle our business the way we’re supposed to handle our business there is a good chance we will see them again.”

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These stats highlight the Patriots' excellence protecting the quarterback

These stats highlight the Patriots' excellence protecting the quarterback

The pillars of any good offense in the NFL most likely involve good quarterback play, a solid offensive line and a scheme that maximizes the strengths of its skill players. 

The Patriots have checked all of those boxes for almost two decades, and it's helped them win six Super Bowl championships and nine conference titles. Tom Brady has been the constant for the entire run of dominance and the offensive line's ability to keep a clean pocket has helped him play into his age-42 season. 

According to Connor Price of Pro Football Focus, the Patriots have the fourth-fewest quarterback pressures (2,001) in the league over the last 10 years, trailing only the Bengals (1,786), Saints (1,945) and Titans (1,957). The league-average for the last 10 years is 2,025 quarterback pressures.

Not only that, but New England also sports the fourth-best pressure rate over that span as well (25.4 percent), behind Cincinnati, New Orleans and Pittsburgh with the league average hovering around 28 percent.   

The Patriots have consistently invested in their offensive line and have the masterful Dante Scarnecchia overseeing the unit, but Brady executing the team's offensive scheme to perfection goes a long way in these stats as well. 

What makes Brady so good, among many things, is his ability to understand opposing defense's tendencies and concepts. This allows him to dissect what's happening in front of him quicker than basically any other quarterback and hit his receivers before pass rushers can finish their moves. 

Without Rob Gronkowski going into this season and seemingly more weapons on the outside than normal, it will be interesting to see if the Patriots' offensive line can continue to keep the pocket clean for Brady if he targets more downfield throws. 

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Julian Edelman pumped for Patriots camp to begin: 'School's back in session'

Julian Edelman pumped for Patriots camp to begin: 'School's back in session'

Julian Edelman warmed up for training camp Saturday by putting on a clinic in near 100-degree heat.

The Patriots wide receiver helped conduct his football clinic for about 600 boys and girls at Lincoln-Sudbury High School about 40 minutes north of Foxboro. The Super Bowl MVP compared Pats camp, which begins Thursday at Gillette Stadium, to school being back in session.

“I’m extremely excited for the new year. This is a new team. Training camp coming up, this is kind of like when school’s back in session," Edelman told reporters. "We had summer break, [now] you get to see all the fellas. This is where you learn your team and learn each other and become accountable for each other and work hard together and create a consistency together."

The undisputed veteran of a Patriots receiving corps that is short on big names beside himself, Edelman, 33, is ready to mentor young receivers, such as first-round pick N'Keal Harry. 

“This is like the beginning shape form of your team, these next few weeks. It’s a crucial point. We put a lot of hard work in during the spring, and the next step to playing other teams, so it’s definitely exciting.”

With tight end Rob Gronkowski retired, Edelman takes center stage as Tom Brady's favorite target. He led all Pats receivers with 850 yards in the regular season despite an NFL-imposed PED suspension that kept him out of the first four games. His 10-catch, 141-yard performance against the Rams in Super Bowl 53 earned him game MVP honors.

Starting Thursday, he'll lead a receiver group that includes few familiar names: Phillip Dorsett returns, Braxton Berrios is back from the practice squad, Harry is a top draft pick and free-agent signees Demaryius Thomas, Dontrelle Inman and Maurice Harris are among those who've been added.